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TORONTO, July 15, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — The controversial pro-life movie Unplanned smashed box-office expectations with a “phenomenally strong” opening weekend in more than 50 Canadian theatres.

The film brought in $352,510 CDN at 49 theatres that reported revenues, according to B.J. McKelvie, pastor and president of the Fredericton-based Cinedicom, Unplanned’s Canadian distributor.

“It shocked me … That’s a phenomenally strong opening for 49 reported theatres,” McKelvie told LifeSiteNews. 

“The per-average theatre number is the second highest in North America” for that weekend, he added.

Unplanned dramatizes Abby Johnson’s conversion from a director of a Planned Parenthood abortion facility to full-time pro-life advocate and founder of And Then There Were None, a nonprofit proactive ministry dedicated to helping people leave the abortion industry.

The movie was written, produced, and directed by Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, who were also taken aback by its Canadian debut.

“We expected a solid opening, but the No. 2 highest per-screen average in all of North America is something we couldn’t have predicted,” Konzelman told LifeSiteNews in an email.

“We’ve been saying all along that we knew there was strong demand for the film in Canada, despite the obstacles placed in our way — including disparaging remarks,” he said.

“We’re not sure exactly how many Canadians consider themselves pro-life … but we’re confident the number is larger than it was a week ago,” added Konzelman.

“This is a film with the power to change hearts and minds.” 

Ashley Bratcher, who plays Johnson in the movie, tweeted Sunday about the movie’s box-office success:

Unplanned was released widely in American theatres on March 29 and earned a A+ CinemaScore rating, which is based on audience reaction, and grossed more than $18 million.

But it was effectively banned from Canadian theatres because producers could not find a Canadian distributor until McKelvie stepped in last month.

“It’s overwhelming to be a part of this international movement,” he said in a July 15 press release from Carmel Communications. “Against all odds, we successfully brought Unplanned to the people of Canada.”

The movie’s release in 14 major Cineplex locations, seven Landmark theatres, five Cinémas Guzzo venues in Quebec and 27 independent cinemas provoked a storm of protest from Canadian abortion advocates.

The film also became political when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford took to Twitter last weekend to accuse Conservatives of abetting its release, and federal tourism minister Mélani Joly appeared on television to warn against the “anti-choice propaganda.”

But the negative publicity for Unplanned may have backfired, suggests Josie Luetke, youth coordinator at Campaign Life Coalition, Canada’s national pro-life political lobbying group.

“The unsurprisingly strong turnout is a testament to both the power of Abby Johnson’s story and the efforts of grassroots pro-lifers who promoted Unplanned within their communities,” Luetke told LifeSiteNews.

“We are also grateful for the assistance of political figures and the mainstream media in increasing awareness of the film, though it’s a shame they largely did so through fear-mongering. We encourage everyone to keep up the discussion!” 

As the movie played to sold-out crowds on Friday, a few people showed up at various venues for protests that McKelvie said were “small and quiet,” and “some of them really were just ridiculous.”

The Edmonton Journal reported on a handful of abortion advocates holding signs in the Cineplex parking lot. Canadian Press reported on a La Riposte Feministe protest in Montreal, where participants displayed messages such as “Abort the Patriarchy.” 

The Grantifa YYC: Grannies for Justice posted pictures on Facebook of a Calgary protest in which one woman in the now familiar “handmaid” costume held a sign declaring: “Pro-choice IS pro-life.”

Camilla Gunnarson, Campaign Life Coalition’s director of social media, encountered a similar sight outside the Cineplex in Kitchener, one holding a sign stating: “Abortion saves lives.”

“Went to see #unplannedmovie last night and was greeted by these protesters,” Gunnarson noted in a Facebook post.

“None of them had seen the film. Not sure why they would protest a film about one woman’s #abortion journey in which she eventually found herself on the side of life. The theatre was sold out and we ran into a local obstetrician who said all medical references and procedures were portrayed 100% accurately. Go and see @unplannedreported.”

However, in the lead-up to Unplanned’s opening, two independent cinema managers/owners told McKelvie they contacted police over death threats.

And at least one moviegoer she spoke to was grateful Ottawa Cineplex Scotiabank posted two security guards outside the theatre, who checked tickets and “rooted around in purses” for possible weapons, Campaign Life Coalition’s Debbie Duval told LifeSiteNews.

There was also a security guard inside who told the moviegoer they were ready to quell any disturbance inside the theatre, Duval said, adding that her source hopes people will contact Cineplex to thank them for taking precautions.

Cineplex has been hit from both sides over Unplanned, with the pro-life Battle for Canada Committee led by Art Lucier and Faytene Grasseschi launching a boycott of the company in May.

Abortion advocates targeted Cineplex after agreed to screen Unplanned, and CEO Ellis Jacob released an open letter defending the decision on freedom of speech grounds.

Whether or not theatres will be extending the movie’s run because of the “incredibly strong” opening is only speculation at this point, McKelvie told LifeSiteNews.

Some independents may hold it over, but Cineplex has been clear so far that it’s not going beyond its initial agreement to screen Unplanned in 14 locations for a week, he said.

Cineplex is also renting its theatres to groups for private screenings.

“I was hoping” Cineplex would extend the run “when they saw those strong numbers. And they had a few other bookers in the industry saying, ‘Are they holding it?,’” McKelvie said.

“It was kind of the talk of the town, and the shock of the town, but that’s the way it is.”

July 17, 2019 correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the pro-life boycott of Cineplex was started by Canada Wants Unplanned. It was initiated, however, by the Battle for Canada Committee led by Art Lucier and Faytene Grasseschi. This report has now been corrected.